Moving Your Site - The SEO-friendly Way

The situation strikes fear in the hearts of website owners everywhere.

You have a successful web property that has been around for years. You get lots of quality traffic from the major search engines and you make good money from that traffic. There’s no reason to mess with a good thing, right?

Well, for whatever reason, your site is going to be changing. Maybe you scored a great new domain name. Maybe your web designer recoded your website and instead of .html all your URLs now have to end in .asp. Or maybe some silly SEO consultant told you to change your URLs so they would be more SEO-friendly.

Whatever the reason, the question is the same:

How do I keep all my awesome search traffic?

It’s simple: 301 Redirects!

A 301 redirect (aka SEO-friendly redirect) simply tells your web browser (and Google) that Page A has now permanently moved to Page B. That’s it. Once it’s in place, any user who bookmarked your old blue-widgets.html page will now be automatically redirected to blue-widgets.asp.

There are other ways to redirect a page (Meta Refresh, 302 Redirect among others) but a 301 redirect is called an SEO-friendly redirect for a reason: it’s the way Google likes best. By using a 301 you’ll be preserving your rankings and search traffic as much as possible. Users and search engines alike will be automatically redirected to your new URLs and have a seamless experience on your site.

OK, you say, that’s all well and good. But how about some practical advice that I can actually use? Boy, you sure are demanding. OK, here’s a step by step process for moving from an old set of URLs to a new set of URLs:

1) Set Up New URLs
Make sure your new URLs are properly configured and live on the Internet first before you start redirecting things. After all, we don’t want to redirect people to error pages, now do we?


2) Create 301 Redirects
Put your 301 redirects in place on the old URLs. This can be done a number of ways and all the technical stuff can be found in this handy article from WebConfs.com: How To Redirect A Web Page. If the only thing that is changing is the root domain, you can usually redirect the entire website at once. However, if other parts of the URLs are changing (i.e. a new folder structure), you’ll have to do them 1 by 1.


3) Choose Wisely
If you have a massive site and can’t do a global 301 redirect, you may have to make some decisions on which pages to redirect and which to disregard. Sometimes your developer just won’t have time to manually redirect thousands of pages 1 by 1. If you have to choose, go through the following steps:
a. Analytics. Run a report in Google Analytics (or your Analytics platform of choice) to find all the "landing pages." These are the pages your users are going to directly (either from bookmarks, search engines, emails, or other direct methods) without using your site navigation. If these URLs have changed, you want them to 301 redirect.
b. Google Indexed Pages. Enter "site:www.mysite.com" in Google to find which pages are being indexed by Google. If Google knows about the pages, you want to tell Google where they have moved. 301 all the pages that come up for the search query. Better yet, if you're signed up with Google Webmaster Tools (more on this below in item 6), you'll get much more accurate data there.


4) Test
Check to make sure it worked! This is a surprisingly often overlooked step. Don’t forget it. Go to a few old URLs in your web browser and make sure they automatically redirect to the correct new ones.


5) New Sitemap
Create a new XML Sitemap with all your new URLs. You do have an XML Sitemap right? Good, now update it.


6) Tell The Right People
Let the search engines know that your URLs have changed. You are signed up with Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo Site Explorer and Bing Webmaster Center, aren’t you? Good, I knew you would be. If your sitemap URL changed, resubmit it. If it didn’t, you can resubmit anyway, just to give them a little heads up to check out your site as soon as possible (though they should find out on their own eventually even if you do nothing).


7) Wait
This is the hard part. The 301 redirects should carry over 85%-90% of the authority from the old URL to the new URL but this process can take some time. You will likely experience a dip in traffic and rankings in the days or weeks following the big move. It takes some time for all this information to make its way through Google’s massive indexing system and you’ll probably see it go in waves with some old URLs and some new URLs in the Google index at the same time.

Follow this process, be patient, and you will be rewarded with a smooth transition that works for both users and search engines.

- Evan LaGasse, Consultant, eBoost Consulting

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